You know, there have always been genres in books and authors that I just didn’t particularly care for – horror, mostly. I have a vivid imagination and a low-gross-out threshold. There are images that I just don’t want in my head, ever. Never really got into suspense, espionage, vampires, or ultra-violent adventure. But mystery, science fiction, historical fiction were all OK – perfectly my cup of tea, as long as there wasn’t explicit gore or mind-boggling graphic violence of any kind, including the sexual, or the sudden inexplicable random deaths of characters that I had gotten to be rather fond of. (Which puts GRR Martin right out. It’s not really good form to do this repeatedly and presumably with malice and an apparent need to kick your readers in the teeth. I have killed a couple of very appealing characters in two separate books, but it was planned so from the beginning and not casually or without regret over the necessity.)

There are other authors who had particularly rackety, disorganized and disreputable lives, with personal hobbies or vices not especially recommended. I could take their books or leave them alone on that basis. There are plenty of writers who apparently and for various reasons are or were eminently dislikable in their personal lives, but to each their own. I honestly didn’t care about private lives or political leanings of writers that I did enjoy reading but in all my reading life I have only personally banned one author from ever reading their books again. I went to the extent of collecting up all those books that I had by her and binning or donating them: Marion Zimmer Bradley, who wrote book after book of science fiction/adventure/fantasy set on a far distant dark world in the space-traveling future, as well some historical fiction. (A rundown of the whole child-abuse controversy is here,)

I picked up one of her books – Thendara House, if memory serves, at the Stars and Stripes bookstore at Hellenikon AB – and pretty much devoured that, and as many of the other Darkover series as I could find. I had enjoyed the heck out of the Darkover series, which I came into after serving a tour of duty in Greenland, at a forlorn, ice-bound air base thirty miles north of the Arctic Circle. After that year in Greenland, I could seriously relate to earth-accustomed service personnel sent to spend a tour on a cold, isolated planet with a red sun, four moons, and a dark sky. I had lived it, after all. So I read them all, buying by mail-order, or as they appeared at various bookstores. She wrote fearless, independent, and adventurous female protagonists, and by repute was quite the feminist among pop science fiction writers, as well as being extremely encouraging to other female writers. It was to the point where I even wrote a short story for one of her anthologies, during that period when MZB was inviting other writers to ‘romp in her Darkover playground’. Alas, by the time I submitted it, she or whoever was assembling those anthologies had second thoughts. All I got for the trouble taken was a rejection notice, accompanied by a vaguely threatening letter advising me not to violate her copyrights by publishing anything which impinged in any way, shape or form on the Darkover universe. Pity – it was a good story, too, and an interesting and kick-ass main character … I still have it someplace, that and the two follow-on sci-fi adventures that I started writing in longhand before being diverted by other concerns. Like having to earn a living, post Air Force.

When the whole sordid tale of MZB, the abuse of her children and her pedophile late husband came out – and it turned out that it all had been common knowledge in a circle of fans and intimates, it poisoned every shred of enjoyment I had taken in the books – especially in brief interludes where sexual violence came into the plot, most notably where children were involved in such violence.  My daughter confessed much later that she wished that I had forbidden her to read The Firebrand, as a young girl is raped to death after the fall of Troy. After reading about MZB’s treatment of her daughter, and the blind eye or enablement she provided her husband, I just couldn’t even look at her books on my shelf or read them without being reminded. So, into a box, and stashed under the bed. After one of the cats scratched a cozy nest for himself in the top layer, I wound up tossing the ruined books and dropping off the rest of them at Goodwill. I’ve never felt any urge to read them again. It probably was fortunate that the story I sent in for the Darkover anthology was just too late for the game.

… in the swing of things, generally. The current crud, seasonal flu, heavy pollen allergies, new COVID variant or whatever – or a combination of all of these – laid my household low for the last week. First my daughter, who was exposed to the mold, dust and assorted animal-dropping crud inside a derelict house that her investor clients were interested in purchasing and gutting. She was recovering from the massive affront to her immune system, when Wee Jamie began running a temperature high enough to be of concern. Pronounced by the pediatrician to be not in any danger, he recovered in a day and a half … and then I fell in turn. Fortunately, a lot of daytime sleeping and rounds of Theraflu knocked back the worst of whatever – but I had a seriously reduced interest in doing very much at all over the last week, beyond walking the dogs around the block, checking various blogs, answering email, and crawling back into bed.

The YA pioneer trail adventure is chugging along, though – I’m doing some refresher reading for it. Another commenter on regular weekend book post that I participate in recommended the Lockley collection, and I sent away for two volumes of the Lockley Papers. Fred Lockley was a turn of the last century writer and local news reporter in Oregon; he had a practice of interviewing as many of the old pioneers as he could corner and setting down their unvarnished reminiscences about the trail and the early days. The Lockley archive ran to thousands of interviews of first-hand recollections of all kinds of people, many of them children or teenagers at the time of the events related. It’s basically the same sort of goldmine for researchers as was J. Marvin Hunter’s collection of interviews of Texas trail-drivers; both men were from the same generation and had the same background in newspaper reporting. I’m also reading some of the Lockley volumes to get a sense of the archaic voice and vocabulary of the time.

It wasn’t all skittles and beer, either – several of the accounts were from surviving sisters of the Sager family – seven brothers and sisters, the smallest a newborn infant, whose parents both died on the trail. The Sagers were adopted by Oregon missionaries Narcissa and Marcus Whitman – and orphaned again several years later when the Whitmans were murdered by Indians angered by Dr. Whitman’s inability to save their people from an epidemic of measles which were ravaging the local tribe. Another woman related the murder of her father and three small younger brothers in another Indian uprising. Later, her mother was murdered by two white men who were convinced that her mother had some money hidden away and tried to force her to reveal the hiding place. Yep – trauma galore, but only some of this will be part of my narrative; it will be happening to other people, on the fringes of my heroine’s story.

Anyway, this was the first day that I felt up to working on a project; it wasn’t a book project, I regret to say, although it was at least as much fun – another miniature scene, this one of a garage, full of tools and car parts, and advertising for various automotive products. A fun build, and very much outside the usual project of this kind, which more usually runs to twee little bookstores, coffee shops and homey kitchens. And so – now that it is done, after a day and a half of fitting, gluing, sanding and painting – back to the book projects.

So, it’s come to me having to think about the next book project. We’re going to wrap up the Luna City chronicles in the next few months, although I will likely go and do a kid’s adventure series featuring some of the characters as children in the 20s and 30s. I think I can probably do one more collection of Jim Reade and Toby Shaw adventures in the time of the Republic of Texas. Likely, I could do one more adventure with the ancestors of the Vining and Becker families during the Revolution, but right now that prospective project seems more like a grim obligation to fill out the series than anything else. A writer has to feel some enthusiasm embarking on a new book project – it also helps if the enthusiasm lasts through the first draft.

In a way, I’m circling back to my very first historical novel – the one which doesn’t have a single thing to do with Texas. But it has proved enduringly popular and is the only one of my books other than the Jim and Toby stories that I can unequivocally recommend to tween and teen readers. I had an idea – to create a wagon-train adventure again, but with a tween protagonist, experiencing a coming-of-age adventure-journey. Perhaps extend the adventure to the initial discovery of gold at Sutter’s mill, and the wild and raucous days in the gold mines where women and intact families were so rare as to be practically an endangered species … I already have most of the necessary references in house, which saves on research time. Another trilogy, perhaps – but each book separate and stand-alone as a separate adventure. Make the series about a close-knit and affectionate family, like the Ingalls family, of the Little House series. That should have the charm of the unusual, given the current trend in YA for flamingly dysfunctional families. Offer adventures which subtly demonstrate the values of courage, accepting responsibility, and problem-solving … yes, I could have fun with this, and make it a good, engaging read – like Harry Potter, although I’ll likely never be able to buy a couple of castles out of my royalty payments. For some peculiar reason, it seems more natural to me to do the story in first person voice. Which can be fun – I can try and model the main character/narrator voice after a combination of Jaimie, from The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, Huckleberry from Huckleberry Finn and Mattie from True Grit – just make the reading level and vocabulary a bit more comfortable for modern tween and teen readers. So … off we go, on another book adventure!

19. January 2024 · Comments Off on Misplaced Sarcasm · Categories: Domestic, Random Book and Media Musings

One of my occasional internet stops is a group blog featuring analysis of costuming, hair and makeup in a wide range of movies, TV shows and miniseries set in all periods and countries, up to the late 1950s or so. The various contributors have, between them, considerable expertise in aspects of historic costuming, apparently unlimited time, access to the material under consideration, sharp eyes for detail, and a reservoir of snark the size of Lake Michigan. Now and again some of them have gone all out for diversity, inclusion and equity, but not to an absolutely insufferable degree; mildly annoying, but not enough to put me off returning. I have a mild interest in historic costuming, since I do like to dress in period Victorian or Edwardian attire for book events. And the sarcasm is occasional diverting, especially when aimed at badly done costuming, or at a variety of commonly-committed goofs in the genre – things like corsets without any shift underneath, metal grommets in lacing-up garments much before the late 19th century, a tragic lack of hairpins and hats in settings when they would have been required absolutely, zippers up the back of costumes … I’ve occasionally waxed sarcastic about some of these aspects myself.

The other limit to the range of movies considered, besides pre-1950s, is that they don’t ‘do’ war movies, ancient and modern, not having any interest or expertise in uniforms and generally no interest in war movies anyway. Which is a perfectly OK principle to maintain … but just this week, one contributor yielded under protest into watching Band of Brothers because her boyfriend wanted to watch it. Apparently she was so resentful about having to watch that she posted about the experience; just stills of the various actors with a bitter and brief tagline about what their other acting roles had been and a request for judgement on whether she was an a-hole for not relishing the series, as all those white boys looked alike when covered in dirt. Oh, my – the comments on that post were pretty fiery. I’m still working out in my own mind why I was so offended by the flippant dismissal. Likely it’s on the principle of keeping silent if you can’t find anything nice to say. You know – if you and your weblog doesn’t do war movies and don’t know anything about military uniforms, then you just might be better off giving a miss to posting about it all, rather than being spiteful and sarcastic.

But there is a bit more than that; Band of Brothers is an excellent series; the producers took every care to make it as accurate as possible (which at least she gave credit for), and to cast actors who looked as much like their real-life counterparts had appeared at the time. As a dramatic representation of what it was like for the guys of Easy Company in the European Theater 1944-45, Band of Brothers is as good as it ever gets. It just seemed like the blogger/contributor was just dumping on a generation of men because she had to watch a series about them.

I don’t know if I will go back to checking out their posts, after this. I can get my fix of costume design and historical critique at Bernadette Banner and Prior Attire, I think.

27. December 2023 · Comments Off on 2023 – Accomplishments and Plans · Categories: Domestic, Random Book and Media Musings

Ah, yes – the last week of the old year rapidly dribbling away, and time for me to sit down and assess what I managed to get done out of the goals set for last year at this time.

Last year, I vowed to complete three books, which at the time were only partially completed or just barely begun: the Civil War novel That Fateful Lightning, the latest installment of the Lone Star series, a new collection of Jim Reade and Toby Shaw adventures in 1840s Texas, and the 12th volume of the Luna City series.

Well, best two out of three; Lone Star Blood launched in ebook in March, and That Fateful Lightning launched the first of December, in Kindle and print both. As for Luna City #12, that has to roll over into next year’s projects and goals.

I have started on Luna City #12 and hope to have it done and ready for launch at mid-year. I have decided, though, to make it Kindle only, but generate it in print as part of the fourth compendium of Luna City. That makes a nice round number of four extra-hefty collections. Because the story arc of Richard Astor-Hall will come to a nice conclusion with his marrying Katie Heisel, and because one larger-than-life real person who inspired creation of a character in Luna City has since passed away – we have decided to wrap up the present-day cycle at twelve books. However, I am very fond of the mental place that Luna City occupies, as are the fans, so there will be future books set in that space – but in the 1920s and 30s, with Stephen, Letty, Douglas, and their friends as children. They will have adventures and solve mysteries, and generally assist Chief Magill and John Drury in fighting minor crime – a sort of American Emil and the Detectives. I haven’t started on that book yet – still thinking about it and coming up with possible story lines.

We decided to put off doing vinyl flooring throughout the house for the foreseeable future – it’s too big and exhausting a project to tackle myself. It was bad enough, just doing one small room. The privacy fence from the garage to the neighbor’s gatepost was completed early on, though – and as predicted, delivery people are confused about where the front door is! But it makes a secure and private patio for the front bedroom. So that goal done and dusted, and the dryer vent also was cleaned out, at a much greater expense than expected. It might never have been done by the original owners of the house, as the technician found the vent cover permanently attached. That was a disconcerting discovery, and so were the massive quantities of lint removed from the stack.

We didn’t get the slider insert with a pet door in it for the cats to go in and out as they wish – but we did put in some patio furniture, cat beds and litter boxes, feeder and water butt for the cats, so the patio is sort-of reclaimed. The slider insert has gone up in price since last I checked – so for now, we’re just leaving the slider door about six inches open most days, so the feline herd may go in and out as the mood takes them. Although the back fence has been totally rebuilt – we’re holding off on chickens until this next spring. That and the slider door insert with the pet door are on the agenda for 2024.

In March of 2025, the mortgage on the house will be entirely paid off, and I should have made a good dent in paying for the new siding, windows and HVAC system – all of that installed in 2020 or 2021. As an aside, the siding and the specialty paint on it are wearing extraordinarily well – they all still look as if they had been freshly done just last week.

As for the ongoing projects and plans, I will do my best to get a good vegetable garden going this year, now that I have the somewhat sturdier greenhouse to start seeds in. And I might be able to fit into a pair of size 14 jeans once more. And that’s the state of the author for this year, and the plans for next. Happy New Year!